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I hen winter's blast of freezing tempera- 
tures seals over Michigan's inland waters, 
thousands of hardy souls venture from 
their cozy confines to "break the ice" for another 
go-around at cold-weather fishing. Almost over- 
night, hundreds of little communities spring up on 
lakes and bays, populated by a breed of rugged 
sportsmen and women. Bone-chilling as the weather 
may be, these small settlements are hot spots for 
action as their residents spud holes in the ice, 
jiggle an ice fly for panfish, set tip-ups for walleye, 
pike or lake trout, toss a spear at a northern or 
muskie, etc. All this plus the camaraderie of the 
folks "next door" keeps calling fishermen back to 
their shanty towns until the spring thaw sets in. If 
you'd like to join the happy throng this winter but 
lack the know-how to get started, this folder should 
fill the gap. Its pages pass along the tried-and- 
proved savvy of fishermen around the state— their 
secrets to successful fishing, together with do-it- 
yourself ideas on rigging up angling extras, tips on 
dressing to keep warm, and ice safety suggestions. 
In short, everything is here to make your first 
outing the start of something big in outdoor fun. 
All you need is some fishing gear, 
some bait, a license .... and 
beginner's luck. Here's hoping <<^V , fc. 

you have it. 


Fishing Techniques 

There are three basic ways to go about ice fishing 
—with hand lines, tip-ups, o( sgearsj. The first two 
are by L^r.tbfjHost jfoguiarjrjrabab^because they 
are tne simplest arid can'be used for taking just 
abotrr every kind^pf, fJsh'KSte^TSWgkn's legal catch 
list during 'the winter. Spear fishing is a more 
specialized sport which puts a premium on patience 
and accuracy. Generally, all three types of fishing 
are best from around dawn until mid-morning and 
again from late afternoon to sundown. However, 
spearing action usually holds up throughout the 
day. Early, late, or in between, get out whenever 
you have the chance. Another general thing to keep 
in mind is that fish become rather sluggish during 
the winter, and move around less than in the sum- 
mer. So it stands to reason that the more holes 
you cut and try, the better your chances for locating 
fish. Let's look at each of these techniques to see 
what equipment you'll need and how to use it: 

Hook and Line 

In getting geared up, you'll want a fiber-glass 
rod three to five feet long. A limber rod is usually 
preferred for catching panfish and trout and a stiff 
rod, which aids a firmer setting of the hook, for 
pike, walleye and muskie. If you're going after 
large trout or other big fish, a good free running 
reel, instead of the usual line-winding cleat, is a 
must. It will allow you to "play" your fish better. 
Also, when used without a bobber, this reel will 
let you change your fishing depth with the twist 
of a finger. Some fishermen substitute for the 
bobber by curling part of the line around their 
finger to get the "message" when they have a bite. 
Fishermen who don't care for reels keep their ex- 
cess line from freezing and out of the way by 
winding it around two L-screws which are placed 
about 12 inches apart on the wooden handles of 
their rods. Choice in the strength of lines also 
varies, with not over four-pound test recommended 
for best action on bluegills, other panfish, brown 
and rainbow trout. Some sportsmen who are angling 
specifically for pike or muskies, have lines that 
go as high as 8-12 pound test. Neglecting to use 
light lines is probably the most frequent mistake 
of unsuccessful fishermen. Occasionally, fish will 

break the lighter line, but with some finesse, you 
can land most fish and are certain to have more 
bites. One thing ice fishermen are unanimous about 
is that the line should be transparent monofilament. 
When it comes to the bobber, the smaller the better, 
as long as it's big enough to stay afloat. Fish gen- 
erally don't bite as eagerly in the winter as during 
the summer. Thus, the float buoyance and lure 
weight should be balanced so the slightest nibble 
will sink the bobber and offer minimum resistance 
to the fish. If the float is too buoyant, fish often 
spit out the bait. Assuming for the moment that 
you've picked the right baits and hooks, the strategy 
in hand line fishing is pretty simple. You just "bob" 
or "jig" your line with a short up-and-down motion 
to attract fish to your bait. Stop every couple of 
minutes. This will enable you to feel a bite, and 
give fish a better crack at your offerings. 


By and large, you'll find these fish in the same 
areas during winter as they are in summer— over 
weedy mud flats and at inlets and outlets. Early 
in the ice season fish near bottom in 10-20 feet, 
generally late afternoon. Jig your line about once 
a minute and every few minutes, raise your rod 
some four feet and let the bait settle again. If 
nothing happens in 20-30 minutes, make another 
hole ten feet or more from where you've been 
fishing. After a month of ice and snow cover, blue- 
gills may start swimming higher off bottom and 
they become increasingly sensitive about biting. 
Your success then may depend on locating the 
fish at higher depths, and going to smaller lures 
and a lighter monofilament line. A good combina- 
tion is: a small ice fly, a tear drop or small flasher 
blade with a grub or wiggler on it. The "grubs" 
sold at the bait stores are usually mousies, wax 
worms or corn borers— they all are good. Since 
winter bluegill lures all have weight, no extra shot 
is advisable. 

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Look for these fish in the same haunts favored 
by bluegills. Halfway through the winter in deep 
lakes, they are generally found in the deeper pockets 
during mid-day and toward shoals in early morning 
and evening. Most often, perch will be six inches 
to two feet off the bottom. If the barometer is 
dropping, go all the way down with your bait. 
Sometimes, you have to move it four to six feet off 
the bottom to get action. Probably the best hook-ups 
for perch are Russian spoons baited with perch 
eyes or minnows, a plain hook baited with a wiggler, 
or one of the numerous commercially made ice 
spoons used for bluegills with a grub on the hook 
portion. It is common in Great Lakes waters es- 
pecially to use a two-dropper hook setup with a 
heavy dipsey (bell) sinker at the terminal end. 
Bait stores in likely areas will have these dropper 





rigs on sale. Perch move in schools 
so one should catch them fast when 
they're with you as they may soon 
move on. Plain brass and silver 
spoons may also be used with these 
or other baits already mentioned 
for bluegills which work equally 
well on perch. Other good bets are 
mousies, flicker spinners, French 
spinners, red yarn, and even a shiny 
bare hook. As an added action- 
getter place a three or one-way 
swivel about three feet above the 
end of your main 4-6 pound test line 
and attach a drop line to it. Next, 
put a rather heavy sinker about 
eight inches above a No. 6 or 8 
hook on the main line. Do the same 
to the drop line and you'll have 
doubled your chances for making 


Take what has just been said about perch loca- 
tions and put down a "ditto" on your checklist for 
walleye. Here again, jigging is very effective, using 

a 6-8 pound test line. Russian spoons, a Swedish 
pimple and Rapala spoons baited with a minnow 
are examples of proven jigging combinations. Going 
a bit into detail perhaps, it's a good practice to let 
your baited spoon hit the lake bottom to disturb 
the sand or mud and get the attention of fish. 
Another way of attracting walleyes is to "chum" 
the fishing hole with wigglers. 

Brown and Rainbow Trout 

These two fish are newcomers to Michigan's 
lineup of ice fishing attractions. During December, 
January, and February, they are fair catches in 
about 250 lakes specially designated in recent years 
by the Conservation Department. Lists of these 
waters are available free from the Department's 
district headquarters or its Publications Room in 
Lansing. Happily for most ice fishermen, the special 
season doesn't require a lot of new equipment. In 
fact, ice fishing tackle for bluegills and perch serve 
nicely for most trout fishing. As in panfishing, a 
limber rod is used to lessen the chance of breaking 
the line or tearing the hook from the fish. The 
line should be monofilament nylon of about two 
pound test, same as preferred for taking panfish. 
Lures are as variable as the angler, but here again 
there is quite an overlap with panfishing. Trout 
will hit on most natural baits: corn borer, wigglers, 
minnows, crayfish, salmon eggs, etc. Often times, 
these baits are more effective when used with bright 
ice flies, small spoons, or spinner attracters in 
sizes 8 to 12. Mostly, they should be offered within 
six feet of the bottom. In lakes with inlets or 
outlets that produce a current, these fish seem to 
concentrate in the paths of the current. Generally, 
though, they don't concentrate and you'll have to 
move around to find them. In some lakes, most 
trout are in shallow water, but in others they seem 
to be in deeper waters, up to 30 feet or so. When 
fishing over shallow water, stay well back from 
the hole and move as little as possible or you're 
apt to scare the fish away. Bob the bait a lot in 
the water, but let it rest for a few seconds. Although 
trout are attracted by this movement, they usually 

don't take the bait until it is nearly motionless. If 
you don't get a bite in 15 minutes, move on and 
make a new hole. Another approach to catching 
whitefish as well as trout calls for a combination 
of hand line and tip-up fishing in two holes about 
10 feet apart. In one, use a hand line with a large, 
baited flashing spoon as the come-on. Place a 
tip-up in the other hole, baiting it with a small 
minnow about one foot from the bottom. Put a 
buck-shot sinker on a plain monofilament line about 
a foot above the minnow. Idea of this two-way 
tactic is that these fish will often go after a minnow 
on a still line when they're not hitting on a moving 
lure. Chances for success go up when the fishing 
holes are liberally sprinkled with oatmeal to draw 
in the fish. One last word about winter trout fish- 
ing: It's most productive just after the ice forms 
and progressively slacks off later in the season. 

Lake Trout 

For these deep-water rovers, pick out a spot 
over 50 feet deep. The bait— cut sucker, a minnow, 
an artificial red or yellow fly, or a Swedish pimple 
—is fished about 12 inches off bottom, and bobbed 
just enough to make it flutter and enable the fisher- 
man to feel if a trout is mouthing his offerings. 
Sometimes, lakers will strike hard enough to hook 
themselves, but mostly they mouth the bait, and 
the beginner has trouble detecting it. More often 
than not, the strike is very soft, and more sensed 
than felt. 


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These devices, equipped with reels and flags, 
are used mostly for larger fish; northern pike, wall- 
eyes, muskies, and lake trout. They are cheap to 
buy or easy to make. Most of those on the market 
are made to fold up for compact handling. There's 
no big trick to operating tip-ups; they are merely 
baited and set out. When a fish bites, the flag flies 
up and the fun begins. The rest is up to the fisher- 
man and he goes to it by giving his line a solid 
jerk, setting the hook in the fish. Next, he pulls 

the line in rapidly, hand over hand. When he 
has the fish near the hole, it's time to play it 
careful. In their haste, anglers most frequently 
lose their catches at this point by trying to get the 
fish on the ice before it is ready. Be prepared on 
the violent surges to let the line slip through your 
fingers— but always with some tension. As you 
may have guessed, tip-ups are especially nice to 
have in colder weather when it's hard to stand 
guard over fishing holes for a long period of time. 
Once they are set out, the fisherman can retire 
to a warm shanty and wait for the action to pop. 
Or, for those who like variety in their sport, tip-ups 
give them a chance to also try their luck at hand 
line fishing. 

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Northern Pike 

Favorite winter haunts of these fish are along 
drop-offs in and near weed beds and brush shelters 
in waters 3-12 feet deep. Pike baits— large minnows, 
4-5 inch suckers, smelt or herring— normally get 
best results when they are 1-4 feet off bottom. 
During March, it sometimes pays to offer one bait 
at this depth and another one about four feet 
under the ice. Try the same bait depths for wall- 
eyes and lake trout. Pike are fierce fighters, so 
use a strong monofilament line (up to 20-pound 
test) and a wire or heavy gut leader. The leader 
should be weighted with two No. 4 split shot and 
feature a large treble hook (1/0 or 2/0). When 
pike grab the bait, they usually make a run, rest, 
and then run again. As soon as they start the 
second run, set the hook with a solid jerk and then 
pull the line in rapidly, hand over hand. Take that 
hook out of the landed fish with a pair of pliers or 
be prepared for many tooth lacerations! 


As in hand line fishing, the places to be are over 
reefs and the edges of shoals where the water is 
15-30 feet deep. For bait, take a 2-3 inch live min- 
now and hook it just behind the dorsal fin so it 

will be free to swim. The livelier the bait, the 
better. Use light tackle, about a six-pound test 
leader, and small hooks. Dusk hours or cloudy 
days are usually best. 

Lake Trout 

It's been mentioned earlier, but this where-to 
tip deserves repeating: Do your fishing in the 
deeper parts of lakes. And be sure you have 
enough line. No less than 100 yards is suggested 
because these fish may run out that much before 
they are actually hooked. A 4-6 pound test line 
will do the job. The same goes for hooks in the 
No. 6 to 10 range. Since monofilament of long 
length has a tendency to twist, many experts tie 
in a small swivel every 50 feet or so. Treble hooks 
in the Nos. 10 and 12 sizes work well, but any 
larger than these should be single pointed. Place 
a very small split-shot two feet above the hook 
and set your bait, a 2-4 inch live shiner or smelt 
just off bottom or a dead smelt or herring on the 
bottom of the lake. Some anglers successfully use 
a three-way swivel 10 feet up the line with a 
dropper hook baited with a live minnow. 


An absolute "must" here is a good dark shanty 
which eliminates the chance of fish seeing you and 
being spooked. If you have a stove, make sure 
that the glow from it is blocked. The shanty itself 
should be sturdily built so the sound from your 
movements inside will not travel through the ice. 
As for the fisherman, he should wear dark clothes 
and gloves so he won't tip himself off to his under- 
water targets. For accuracy's sake, use a spear 
that is weighted. Those that aren't have to be 
thrown too hard and this tends to make them 



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angle off course. Overall weight of the spear de- 
pends upon the fisherman's tastes and the kind of 
fish he's going after. The spear used on whopping- 
sized sturgeon may weigh as much as 15-18 pounds. 
Whatever the weight, the spear you'll want will 
have seven to nine strong tines and about a seven- 
foot handle with a rope attached so you won't lose 
it. In attaching the rope, here's a little trick which 
sometimes may be the difference between landing 
a fish and losing it. Run your rope through a 
cotterpin on the spear's handle down to the tines 
where it is tied fast or secured with a metal ring. 
When you hit the mark and start to haul the fish 
in, a slight jerk pulls the cotterpin out and lets 
you lift the spear with the tines up. If the fish is 
not speared very well, this helps to keep it on 
the tines instead of giving it a chance to work 
free. Getting back to the preliminaries, the element 
of surprise can't be overstressed as a key to success- 
ful spear fishing. So, in getting poised for action, 
lower your spear into the water before you release 
it. Otherwise, it will make a loud plunging sound 
when it hits the water, and alert the fish in time 
to let it dart away to safety. 

Pike and Muskie 

As an important starter, seek out an area where 
the water is about eight feet deep. Since a good 
deal of sharpshooting for these fish is done in 
murky water, it's not a bad idea to drop tinfoil, 
egg shells, or thin slices of potato into your spearing 
hole. These objects will settle on the bottom to 
provide a light background which will make it 
easier to see fish. The next thing to do is run your 
bait or decoy down about three feet below the 
ice or farther, depending upon how clear the water 
is. Live one-pound suckers, 6-8 inch perch, and 
large golden shiners (minnows) seem to attract 
pike and muskies most consistently. Red and white 
decoys are also good fish teasers. Some spearing 
enthusiasts use a large pearl button for this and 
have more luck with it than the conventional fish- 
shaped wooden decoy. 


Spearing for these long-lived lunkers is a rare 
sport limited to the month of February and centered 
exclusively on inland waters in the Cheboygan and 

Indian River chain of lakes— Black, Burt, and Mul- 
lett. It is done from a shanty over a marl bottom, 
generally in water 10-20 feet deep. Slow-moving 
metal and wooden decoys are used to catch the 
sturgeon's curiosity. 

Getting Started On The Ice 

Naturally, before you can test any of the things 
we've been talking about, there is the small matter 
of making a hole in the ice. Many veteran fisher- 
men say the Swedish type auger can't be beat for 
this, especially when the ice is 12 inches thick or 
more. Others swear by their trusty spuds, and 
some favor axes. It's your choice. Of course, the 
auger isn't designed for the type of hole that spear 
fishermen need. Whatever tool you pick, keep it 
sharp or by the time the hole is made, you may 
be too tuckered to enjoy your fishing. With a spud, 
attach a rope to its handle and wrap the loose 
end around your arm or wrist so the spud won't 
be lost when you make that first jab through the 
ice. In chopping or spudding that hole, taper it 
like an inverted funnel so the bottom side is larger 
than the top. Many a big fish has been lost because 
the hole was too small on the bottom. Remember, 
too, that a hole with sharp or jagged edges may 
cut your line. Too large a hole may later endanger 
a life; 8-10 inches is ample. 

De-Icing Ideas 

It's a real nuisance and kill-joy to have ice keep 
forming in your fishing hole. To avoid this, add 
a small amount of anti-freeze, common salt, glycerin, 
or vegetable oil to the water. When the weather 
isn't too cold, some fishermen find it works to 
sprinkle graphite powder on the water to keep it 
free of ice. Also, you can build a small mound 
of snow around the windward side of the hole and 
use a small skimmer to scoop away slush from 
time to time. To prevent snow from filling holes, 
take a small cardboard box and tear off the top 
and one side. Then place it over the hole bottom 
up so your line is protected from the three worst 
sides and from above. The one open side will let 


you watch the bobber for action. For even better 
protection against freezing wind and drifting snow, 
you can use a box enclosed on all sides except the 
bottom. On the top, punch a very small hole and 
run through a light line, with the bobber set to 
float in the water. Outside the box, this line is 
extended some 30 feet and another bobber is at- 
tached to it so you know when there is a bite. 
Some fishermen actually do the opposite of all 
this. As a smart bit of strategy when angling for 
perch and walleyes in very shallow water, they 
place snow in the hole to shield off light which 
often spooks the fish. 

Bait Savers 

There are several ways to lick the problem of 
having minnows freeze. One is to place them in a 
styrofoam bucket; as an added measure, the bucket 
can be painted black to absorb the sun's rays. 
Another suggestion is to keep minnows under the 
ice in a perforated can which allows water to flow 
through it. Or, you can tuck bait inside your 
clothing where it will stay warm. Still another 
way is to pack snow around the minnow bucket 
as insulation. 

Paddle-Type Tip-Up 

For all do-it-yourselfers, an easy project to start 
on is the paddle-type tip-up, one of the more pop- 
ular homemade devices. This illustration tells better 
than a lot of words on how to set up this fish-catcher. 
Sportsmen, by and large, get a special kick out of 
using equipment they've made with their own 
hands. It blends a touch of creativeness with their 
rugged outdoor skills. 



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Equipment Carriers 

When it comes to lugging your gear, a nail keg 
or old wooden shell box make handy items and 
both of them are practically ready-made for what 
the fisherman has in mind. Just add a rope handle 
to the keg and you have a compact carry-all— 
and an emergency life preserver. Use a gas lantern 
inside the keg for heat. With the shell box, add a 
piece of wood to cover half of the open side, 
leaving enough room to pull out gear which is 
stashed inside. On the top of the box, cut a small 
notch for poles to stick through and tack on a piece 
of foam rubber to make sitting more comfortable. 
Sleds and cut-off skis are often rigged with boxes 
so they double as seats and for carrying gear. 
Usually, a gas lantern is placed inside the box 
and lit to keep the angler warm. Going a step 
further, you can convert a toboggan into a com- 
bination equipment-carrier and windbreak. This 
is done by fixing a long box on the toboggan with 
a hinged topside. Pins are placed on the top of 
the box and the bottom of the toboggan. These 
hold the top completely open when the toboggan is 
tipped on its side to form the other part of the 
windbreak. A regular pop case can be carried in 
the box and used as a seat and container for fish. 


Shanties are nice to have on those raw, windy 
days but if you don't own one, there are several 
fairly simple and inexpensive rigs you can make for 
protection from the elements. One of these is the 
familiar lean-to which is generally made like an 
Indian tepee. Three round poles, about six feet long 
and IVi inches in circumference, are used. Canvas 
or some other windbreaking material is tacked to 
them. At each end of the poles are spike nails 
which are driven into the ice to hold the lean-to 
in place. Another idea is to make a portable wind- 
break with a pair of 2 x 4 foot sheets of one-quarter 



inch plywood which are hinged together. The 
whole thing folds up and, by adding runners on 
one side, can be used as a sled. Slightly below the 
middle and at the bottom of the sheets, 1x2 inch 
horizontal braces are put in place, each having four 
nails which are driven in vertically. The nails are 
"de-headed" so they will slip through positioned 
holes in two triangular boards which serve as a 
portable seat and floor. When this windbreak is 
not being used, the seat and floor are stored inside 
the two folded sheets. 

Ice Safety 

Safe ice fishing begins by sizing up conditions 
on your lake before carting shanties and other 
paraphernalia onto the ice. A good place to start 
checking lakes is right around the shore. If shore- 
line ice is squashy or broken up, it's a pretty good 
bet that the lake is still not safe. It pays to know 
your lake— its springs and other features which may 
pose dangers. Spring-fed lakes generally have some 
thin patches of ice throughout the winter, especially 
around their inlets and outlets. Stay clear of dark 
spots in the ice or places where the snow looks 
discolored. You can't always tell the strength of 
ice simply by its look, its thickness, the temperature 
or whether or not it is covered with snow. How- 
ever, new ice is generally much stronger than old 
ice; a couple of inches of new clear ice may be 
strong enough to support you while a foot of old, 
air-bubbled ice will not. Driving cars on ice can 


be downright dangerous at any time. If you insist, 
leave your safety belts unbuckled, keep the car 
windows down, and be ready to bail out. Don't 
park your car in one spot for a long period because 
this tends to weaken the ice. Also, cars should not 
be parked close together. When fishing from a 
shanty, be sure of proper venting, whether it is a 
simple hole in the roof or a regular stove pipe. 
A real danger exists for fishermen who use small 
burners, designed primarily for cooking, which lack 
some type of venting for escaping fumes. 

Keep- Warm Ideas 

All other plans and preparations— no matter how 
well laid out— can go for naught unless the fisher- 
man dresses for the weather. The important thing 
is not the amount but, rather, the choice of clothing 
you wear. Instead of wearing heavy, bulky gar- 
ments, slip into several thin layers of loose clothing 
which will let you adjust to the weather. On some 
sunny days, you may actually get too warm and 
need to peel off a few of those cold-weather duds. 
Getting down more specifically to the "bare" facts, 
your feet are the two most important things to keep 
warm. What to wear? A large number of ice fisher- 
men rate insulated, waterproof boots, preferably 
the Korean kind, as No. 1. Felt shoes inside rubbers 
also make good footwear. With them, wear one 


pair of light socks and a pair of medium-heavy 
wool socks. Your feet also will stay warm if you 
put on a light pair of wool socks under and over 
wool slippers and top this off with four-buekle 
arctics. Some type of windbreaker is a must as an 
outer garment, with the parka being a strong favor- 
ite because of its hood. What goes underneath can 
vary. One good combination includes thermal 
underwear, wool shirt and pants, and insulated 
coveralls. For the hands, wear plastic gloves to 
keep dry. If you don't be sure to carry a spare 
pair of gloves or mittens; for some reason, the first 
pair always seems to get wet. Hand warmers are 
high on the fisherman's list, as are gas lanterns and 
small burners (oil and charcoal). One more word 
about keeping warm; most fishermen wouldn't 
dream of heading onto the ice without their thermos 
bottle of hot coffee or tea. 

Outdoor Etiquette 

Being a good fisherman is more than a matter 
of catching a lot of fish. Fellow sportsmen will also 
rate you by a number of other things, including 
the way your fishing area looks. Keep it neat. 
Remember, cans and bottles left on the ice are 
washed upon lake shores during spring breakup, 
inviting accidents for summer bathers and causing 
many clean-up chores. When abandoning your 
fishing hole, give the other guy a break by marking 
it with a tree branch, sticks, or a chunk of ice. 
Successful fishermen always seem to draw a crowd 
and while there is no law against going where the 
action is, don't crowd out the fellow who found 
the hot spot in the first place. 











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